Commentary by Maj. George R. Sanderlin
21st Space Operations Squadron Detachment 3 Commander
Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, Hawaii — The Department of Defense defines cyberspace as “a global domain within the information environment consisting of the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures and resident data, including the internet, telecommunications networks, computers systems, and embedded processors and controllers.” This definition is carefully worded to ensure that military operations in and throughout cyberspace are properly planned and executed. For most of us, however, this definition may seem too complex and hard to understand for our day-to-day actions.
Unless you are directly involved in warfare in cyberspace, I encourage you to focus instead on the simpler definition provided by Dictionary.com, “Cyberspace is the realm of electronic communication.” The term cyberspace seems almost cumbersome to say, so many people generally refer to all related activity as simply “cyber.” All of us are familiar with electronic communication, and it takes on many shapes ranging from the early electronic bulletin boards and internet relay chat to the more modern forms seen through Twitter, Skype and Yelp. Enormous amounts of electronic communication are passed between friends, family members, coworkers and even strangers every day. So much information is available that it can easily be overwhelming to manage even your own electronic “property.” Based on the availability of so much information, we should all be considerate of the actions we take to protect our cyber communications at home and at work.
Once we upload a picture, post a comment or send an email on the internet, it is almost impossible to guarantee the information is only seen by those who are intended to see it. If we inadvertently release information that should be maintained as private, we can cause damage to others, our units or even to the United States as a whole. If an adversary intercepts a list of people’s names and social security numbers for example, they may be able to use that information to cause financial damage or even gain access to other private information. A list of home addresses combined with names and dates of deploying personnel may offer an adversary windows of opportunity to target or threaten our military members and their families. When we consider sharing information in cyber, we must consider not only our intended purpose, but also in what unintended ways the information can be exploited.
I encourage you to take extra caution when deciding what information to post or transmit in cyber, especially when related to personally identifiable information and for official use only data. Think twice before e-mailing the recall roster to your personal account. Instead, print a hard copy and place it in your wallet or purse. Don’t transmit the enlisted performance report from your home computer to your work e-mail unless you can encrypt your message. Avoid posting photos taken at your job that may reveal capabilities or even limitations of your unit and your mission. Many think an adversary can’t possibly cause any real harm with the little bit of information that we share, but an accumulation of information from lots of people could provide an adversary a significant advantage.
Congressman Frank Wolf once stated, “There are two kinds of people in America today: those who have experienced a foreign cyber attack and know it, and those who have experienced a foreign cyber attack and don’t know it.” Our adversaries probably aren’t targeting you directly, but there is always someone out there looking to gain an advantage for political reasons, philosophical differences or even personal gain. I don’t advocate that we stop sharing information in cyber, as I think the ability to be instantly connected to the people and things we care about is amazing. Just take a moment to consider what information you share and how you transmit it before releasing it in cyber. If we all do our part to scrub the information we share in cyber, we can better protect ourselves, our coworkers and our nation.